Rakhwa village in Uttar Pradesh is one of the most backward regions in the country due to its high poverty levels, low agricultural productivity and poor infrastructure.
But the introduction of 4G internet in this tiny village in 2016 opened opportunities for young and old alike reducing the socio-economic disparity in the population.
And 50-year-old Shashikala Chaurasia is a powerful example of the phenomenon.
Her YouTube channel of traditional food recipes has millions of subscribers and enables her to enjoy a status no less than a celebrity.
A Hint of Grandma’s Secrets
“My hometown is conservative and I have studied only until class 5. Women my age do not have much access to technology and are confined to household chores and taking care of the family,” she says. “It is only in recent times that today’s girls enjoy better freedom and privileges.”
Shashikala says she spent almost 30 years of her life taking care of her three sons, Chandan, Suraj and Pankaj. But the introduction of affordable 4G internet changed her fortune.
Her eldest son Chandan says, “In 2016, a mobile brand’s internet dongles were introduced and started trending in our village. Everyone was exploring various opportunities that the internet was throwing at us. Some of my friends became bloggers, while some became obsessed with social media. Others still became influencers.”
One day Chandan learned from one of his friends that posting videos could help you earn money. “It all depended on the views and reach of their videos but I was intrigued by the concept. I realised that if such a possibility exists, then my mother could help us with the content as she cooked great food,” he says.
Shashikala is known for creating delicacies and lip-smacking food that everyone in the family enjoys. “I surfed some food channels on YouTube and found a few food bloggers and people who shared recipes. So I decided to put faith in the concept,” he adds.
The 29-year-old engineer then shared the concept with his other two siblings. “They were excited, and we unanimously decided to give it a go,” he recalls.
Chandan, Suraj and Pankaj then proposed the idea to their mother. But having no knowledge and experience in using social media, Shashikala was sceptical.
“I had no idea what my children were suggesting. Earning money from just preparing food videos seemed unreal. However, I conceded to my children’s demands on the condition that my face would not be shown to the viewers,” Shashikala says.
Chandan then created a page on YouTube called ‘Amma Ki Thali’. “I had found many food channels associated with the name of a kitchen or those related to food. But there were none related to any mother, and that’s how our page was born,” he explains.
On 1 November 2017, Shashikala’s sons shot a video of her preparing boondi kheer, a sweet delicacy on their cell phone and uploaded it. But to their disappointment, only a few viewers watched the video.
Nevertheless, the siblings continued to make videos. “We kept making videos for over five months and saw no significant increase in the viewers. We started having second thoughts about our content. We tried multiple methods but nothing seemed to work,” Chandan says.
Then in May 2018, the family members collectively decided to upload a mango pickle recipe video. “The summer season was at its peak. So, we decided to upload a video on our mother’s mango pickle recipe,” he says.
To their astonishment, the video garnered thousands of views within hours. “Today, the number of views stands at 26 million and counting. My mother used jaggery to make the unique pickle. Not many use it as an ingredient. That was perhaps what worked,” Chandan says.
Since then, there has been no looking back. Today, Shashikala’s channel has 1.7 million subscribers and 262 million video views which earns her Rs 70,000 a month. Their subscribers are from all around the world, including Pakistan, Fiji, USA, Dubai and other countries.
“Our most-watched video is sooji ke gulab jamun, a dessert that has garnered 50 million views. The second-highest viewership is followed by our rasgulla video that got 41 million views,” Chandan says.
“Many people cannot make rasgulla at home as it does not stay intact. But one day, I shared a simple trick for the same, and I helped many people who reported back in the comments. I borrow from my mom’s cooking techniques, which add to the uniqueness in my recipes,” Shashikala says.
Other videos like gobi ke kofte have registered 8 million views, among many others.
Chandan says their channel videos are popular because they are easy to follow. “My mother uses all the ingredients available at home. She speaks in simple and clear language that our viewers understand. And her recipes taste like homemade food cooked by a grandmother. The comment section reflects the same with people sharing how her videos and cooking style reminds them of their mother or grandmother,” he shares.
Over the years, the siblings have divided the responsibilities of their venture. The work has expanded, and Chandan handles the technical aspects of the shoot. Pankaj captures the videos and Suraj edits them. But the earnings from the channel go into their mother’s bank account.
“We have our jobs and home business to operate, and we help our mother to learn during our free time. We keep learning to shoot better videos and have upgraded our equipment,” he says.
‘Everyone Should Cook’
Chandan says their mother, who was earlier camera-shy, now insists on shooting videos frequently. “Once our camera was sent for repairs which did not allow us to make videos for a while. My mother kept insisting we repair the camera quickly for her to upload videos. Today, she is comfortable speaking and presenting herself to the world,” he adds.
Shashikala says, “I was sceptical and doubted how shooting videos of my daily cooking could become a source of earning. But apart from making my recipes popular, I have become famous. Earlier only my family knew I could cook, but today, people across different parts of the world know me.”
Feeling like a celebrity when people recognise her and ask for selfies, she says, “People stop me while travelling and visiting other cities, mentioning my channel and appreciating my work. They often express their eagerness by asking when the next recipe will get uploaded. I feel proud to have built a career at this age which has earned me respect and pride in society.”
She adds, “People ask how the leftover food can be used to prepare interesting items, and we are trying to focus on such content.”
Shashikala feels that everyone should be able to learn cooking from her videos. “I want to break the notion that cooking is difficult. I aim to simplify recipes that enable everyone to cook with ease,” she says.
She adds, “The business has taught me never to give up, and determination with passion can help one succeed.”
Edited by Yoshita Rao